You’ve been #hustling for the past year at your startup. Your team has doubled and doubled again. What was...
I read with amusement the other day a point Keith Rabois made regarding entrepreneurs and blogging:
— Keith Rabois (@rabois)
After what must have been well over a few hundred responses, it seemed that Keith was not really all that off the mark. There are maybe a handful that could be considered possible exceptions, but for the most part those successful CEO’s and entrepreneurs (by Keith’s definition) are just not blogging. They may throw up a post once in a blue moon, but on a regular basis? Not so much. Let’s face it, who has time for that?
I am not sure this is anything unexpected though. Honestly, how many people blog on a regular basis (which for the sake of argument, once a week)? Other than people whose job is in fact blogging, either for their own enterprise or in the employ of an online content provider, there is not a whole lot. There are a few well known examples in the tech world like Fred Wilson and Brad Feld, otherwise there is scant few. Who’s got the time to spare if it’s not your job?
Or maybe our idea of time and commitment is misconstrued. I do not necessarily believe it is always comes down to time that stops folks from blogging. You could say that about any non-work activity. Who has time for exercise or who has time to watch Stanford college football games or who has time to spend with one’s family or who has time to take vacations…you get the point. Everything is a balance based on priorities. If it is important, then you make time for it.
Rather than time, the issue may be about exposure. Blogging is a very public and permanent record of the author. Your blog advertises you, your thoughts, and your opinions to the world, all unfiltered and available in a click to be shared across all the social networks. For one’s personal brand, that is a powerful medium. From the perspective of a company however, that is not a highly valued. Rather, the corporate minions see it as a massive and unacceptable risk.
CEO’s and entrepreneurs are not their own boss. That whole “be your own boss” thing is overstated. They might have more latitude, but there are investors to answer to, employees to consider, customers to please, media and press to cultivate, partners to work with. A CEO is not a utility player or a free agent, but the face of the company. That is why those quotes in press releases sound so dull and lifeless. That is why there are handlers and training provided to CEO’s at speaking events to make sure they do not go off script. That is why companies invest heavily in people and processes so that they can control the message and the flow of communications.
Sure, most CEO’s and entrepreneurs are too busy to blog. Often startup founders are heads down for months at a time delivering on product and close sales and building a company. There are plenty however that do have or could make the time. Some have even said as much to me. But they realize either explicitly or implicitly that their “blogging” may not be a good idea. At most, they may get a company blog or a regular column in some media outlet, but the content will be heavily scrubbed or even ghost written by the PR team. At that point, the words lose poignancy and authenticity. Their blogs and social media accounts are sanitized to remove any whiff of originality and personality.
And that is a shame. I see immense value in blogging as an executive or entrepreneur. For me, this is my “down time” in that it affords me the opportunity to think expansively on ideas or to think deeply on a topic. That means I cut out an hour of the day for a post, but it is well worth it. In the same way, it is important for folks to have dedicated “think time” and the exercise of writing lends itself naturally to that process. It unlocks ideas, it exposes insights, and it brings clarity, which are the type of mental exercises that become diminished when in the fever pitch of running a company.
Will we see more authentic voices emerge from the CEO and successful entrepreneur world? I believe so, as we are starting to see with more executives taking to Twitter and more forums available provide thoughts and opinions without the baggage of maintaining a blog. But it is not so much about the “infrastructure” or the medium of delivery, but the fact that social media is not the exception anymore, but the reality. Kids are growing up in an age of ubiquitous social networks, always on Internet, faster and more powerful smartphones, and with this access is a different set of mores about sharing and openness. Maybe it is not “blogs” in the future, but in order to rise above the increase noise and overflow of information, authentic, engaging, and genuine voices are going to stand out. That is where the best and smartest companies will be heading in the future, with leaders that shift away from risk management and move forward into engagement.
ADDENDUM: I realized that I forgot one of the key points I meant to discuss and the whole reason for this post! One of the implications in the Twitter debate was that CEO’s and entrepreneurs that blog often are taking time away from running their companies. Thus “blogging” somehow correlates to harming one’s business. This is important to understand for startups because many investors harbor negative perceptions of entrepreneurs that are heavy users of social media. The message is that it is okay for investors to blog and tweet and such, but not for entrepreneurs. I find that position ludicrous and rather hypocritical. As Andy commented below, would the same hold for speaking at events, talking to the press, writing thought leadership pieces and articles, or other types of communications? Of course not!
“Shared Command" by Ben Horowitz
Sharing ultimate decision making responsibilities is always an impending leadership disaster.
“McKesson CEO entitled to record $159M pension" via SFGate
It should be noted that he has not received this payment, this is simply a filing as required by public companies to disclose various compensation scenarios for departing executives. However, he received in excess of $50 million per year in compensation since joining McKesson as CEO in 1999.
Meanwhile, pensions are being outright eliminated for most Americans or converted to 401k plans with little or no guarantees. Many American workers have gone without a pay raise for over a decade. Meanwhile average CEO compensation for public US companies is $9.7 million and the ratio of their salaries to rank and file employees is 204:1.
Folks, this is not sustainable. The culture of greed and self-interest is not compatible with democracy or a balanced, well-functioning civil society. The country’s founding was one built upon the ideal of opportunity for all, not opportunism for few.
A funny thing that I have noticed about superstars is how rare it is to repeat success. There are many obvious examples from the ranks of corporate CEO’s, when many highly lauded executives have moved on to another opportunity only to meet abject failure. Robert Nardelli from GE to Home Depot, John Sculley from Pepsi to Apple, Carol Bartz from Autodesk to Yahoo are just a few of the more high profile examples. They all had varying length tenures, but they all suffered from the same problem. They had extensive skills but those skills did not translate in the new environment.
This skills vs. environment issue is something I have seen play out again and again across many types of roles and levels of responsibility. In a HR tech startup I co-founded, one project involved analyzing the executive training program for a Fortune 100 firm. The program trained highly prized recruits for two years to groom them for senior roles within one of the business units. However, many of the recruits had quit once the program concluded. It was discovered that people who stayed and thrived had one thing the other recruits did not have; a strong background in research and development. It did not matter that the recruits were Ivy League MBA’s with impeccable credentials or that the company was a highly respected firm that won numerous best employer awards. If the person did not fit well into the organization, the relationship never worked.
Studies bear out much of the dichotomy between a job candidate’s skills and long-term success. Leadership IQ looked into why newly hired employees fail and concluded that 89% failed for reasons other than not having the requisite skills for the job. Many of the factors cited such as motivation, temperament, communications and such all point to the fact that while skills are important, they may have less of a factor in job performance than we have come to expect.
One might be excused for coming to the conclusion that hiring is at best a crap shoot. Many of the tools that we have become familiar with seem to do a poor job at actually assessing talent. However, there are ways to reduce the risk of hiring failures by being aware of common traps one makes during the hiring process when evaluating candidates. The following three points cover the most egregious yet correctable mistakes when hiring for highly critical roles:
So, what is the most important lessons to take away from this? Do not underestimate the damage caused by the misalignment of culture in your hiring! It is a slow killer and something that is hard to recognize when you are under the impression that everyone around you is an “A player”. That is the heavy selection bias that colors our viewpoint when it comes to evaluating talent. We dismiss the poor hires as bad apples, disgruntled employees, or simply liars. On the other hand, we overestimate employees that we deem great hires as having superior skills. The reality is that being highly skilled is only part of the equation. Talent can only thrive when skills, culture, and goals meet.
This is not to say that there are not extraordinary people that seem to have that “A player” aura. Steve Jobs managed to resurrect his early career to become one of the most legendary business leaders of our generation. Richard Branson would be another excellent example of being massively successful in a number of endeavors. However, these are entrepreneurs that defy categorization. They are not people that are simply plugged into someone else’s culture; they create culture. They would never be people that you hire, because they are outsized personalities and overwhelming forces of charisma, energy, and conviction.
Do not get caught in the game of hiring A players and chasing talent. Have the strength of conviction that your culture and hiring process are sound. If you have a compelling vision, a promising product, and a good network, you can find talented people to join your team. The people that show genuine excitement about your idea, give up sleep and weekends and fat paychecks, and show initiative are your true A players. Those are the people that are going to stick it out with you when things are rough.
Resonated with my sports themed post from this morning on belief. The moral of the story is that the only way you learn is by doing.
This week was a prolific one on the Strong Opinions. We recommended that cats stop doing startups and stick with licking themselves, showed how to cyberstalk people, demonstrated egregious social media snobbery, cut down the digital content middlemen to size, exposed Christmas to be the 800lb gorilla of holidays, and showed salespeople to not be totally useless.
Since I know you did all your Christmas shopping ahead of time, there are no excuses for not catching up on these articles of mass awesomeness. Enjoy and happy reading!
There is an ongoing meme that successful tech CEO’s do not come from sales. The truth however is that plenty of salespeople went on to successful careers as CEO’s leading technology companies. Thomas Watson of IBM as well as six out of eight IBM CEO’s started in sales including current CEO Sam Palmisano. Some other notable salespeople that became successful CEO’s include John Hurd of Oracle and previously HP and NCR, Paul Otellini of Intel, John Chambers of Cisco, and Rob Dutkowsky of Tech Data.
From the technologists perspective, we tend to view salespeople as bombastic, shallow, dull-witted, non-intellectual, and devoid of any technical depth. The power of this myth is then confirmed by tech luminaries such as Steve Jobs, who famously took Microsoft to task for letting Ballmer run the company. His own experience during the Sculley years also added to Jobs’ contention that salespeople cannot run a tech company.
I believe this was true back in a few decades ago when building a technology company was the domain of engineers. Most great tech companies such as HP, Data General, Sun and the like were engineering companies throughout, run by techies for techies. The knowledge and skills to found a technology company required deeply technical experience.
The tide is turning however in the makeup of tech founders. The technology is simply more accessible and the easier to support. People with design backgrounds, Wall Street bankers, marketing pros, and other would be entrepreneurs are starting tech companies. While these may not be hardcore tech companies like database or security startups, they are technology companies all the same. Even sales and business development people are getting into the game.
That is not to say that salespeople clamber to become CEO’s or found companies. Excellent salespeople generally have little desire to move into management. For one, the upside is greater in a field sales role than in management. Second, many salespeople are not tapped for CEO roles because the best salespeople usually do not come with the pedigree. This usually means a combination of diverse work experience across multiple business functions and an MBA or other higher level graduate degree from a prestigious college.
Where do most CEO’s come from? Over 40% come from finance roles such as accounting. This makes sense given the importance placed on the financial numbers in business. Many accountants will get an MBA, work in the big accounting firms, build up an impressive coterie of high level industry clients, and then jump ship when a plumb executive opportunity arises. Other fields that are popular starting points for future CEO’s are marketing and consulting, again careers that are built with a diversity of experience and higher level education.
When a salesperson does lead or start a tech company, the successful ones are simply great leaders. They may not have the depth of experience in product or engineering, but they pull together the people that do. They set the culture of the company and emphasize the vision and values. They are absolutely focused on execution. And those traits translate to other founders and CEO’s that come from different career paths. Ultimately, it is not about being deep in technical or domain skill, it is being able to navigate the various disciplines, be enough of a generalist to grasp what the important points, and lead people towards a vision.